• Family: Apidae
  • Tribe: Bombini
  • Approximate # species in our region: 20
  • Common name: bumble bees

Few other bees are as well-known and as beloved as bumble bees. These hairy, rotund bees are represented by nearly 60 species in the US, about 20 of which can be found in our region. Bumble bees form annual, social colonies which begins each spring with a queen and grows throughout the summer with help from workers. Bumble bees are one of the best groups for a gentle introduction to bee watching since most species are large, have distinctive patterning on their abdomens, and have longer flight seasons than solitary bees.

It is worth noting that several other species of insects resemble bumble bees. Among bees in the northeast, Anthophora spp., Habropoda laboriosa, Ptilothrix bombiformis, and Xylocopa virginica are particularly effective bumble bee mimics. One way to distinguish between bumble bees and bee mimics is that bumble bee females gather pollen in moistened pellets on their hind legs (corbiculae), whereas the mimics always carry pollen dry in brushes of hairs (scopae). With a bit of practice, you will also learn that bumble bees and mimics making buzzing noises at different frequencies when in flight.

In addition to this guide, there are several other excellent resources to bumble bee identification.

Species covered:

Scientific NameCommon NamePhenologyHabitatForage
Bombus impatiensCommon eastern bumble beeApril-OctoberWidespreadGeneralist
Bombus bimaculatusTwo-spotted bumble beeApril-JulyForests, backyardsGeneralist
Bombus griseocollisBrown-belted bumble beeApril-AugustMeadows, citiesGeneralist
Bombus fervidusGolden northern bumble beeApril-SeptemberMeadows, citiesGeneralist, long-tongued
Bombus borealisNorthern amber bumble beeApril-SeptemberForests, forest edgesGeneralist, long-tongued
Bombus pensylvanicusAmerican bumble beeMay-AugustMeadowsGeneralist, long-tongued
Bombus auricomusBlack-and-gold bumble beeMay-AugustMeadows, citiesGeneralist, long-tongued
Bombus ternariusTricolored bumble beeApril-SeptemberBackyards, forest edgesGeneralist
Bombus vagans/Bombus sandersoniHalf-black bumble bee/Sanderson’s bumble beeApril-SeptemberForestsGeneralist
Bombus perplexusPerplexing bumble beeApril-AugustForestsGeneralist

Species requiring accounts:

  • Bombus citrinus
  • Bombus flavidus
  • Bombus rufocinctus
  • Bombus terricola